HERO HISTORY: Blok

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Or -”Since You Won’t Join In On My Internet Meme, Time To Drop Some Knowledge…”

There’s just no excuse for the lack of information available on the heroes of my youth in this, the so-called information age. When I can easily access incredibly sensitive personal data, download the plans for any number of unwise-to-create devices, or see one of thousands of pictures of Britney’s bajingo, it’s absolutely criminal to see the dearth of solid information on something as basic as The Legion of Superheroes. I’ve been talking up Blok, the Legion’s resident philosopher, historian, and silicon lifeform for a couple of months now, and I’m sure most of you think it’s like when Grandpa used to complain that TV is worse than radio because you don’t need your imagination anymore. So, as we have done before with Blok’s fellow Legionnaire, Karate Kid, it’s time for the old dude to put his money where his mouth is, and introduce you to the last survivor of Dryad. This is your Majors Spoilers Hero History of the being known only as… Blok!

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Steve Lightle really knows how to draw him some superheroes, doesn’t he? Lightle was one of the guys who really got the whole Blok mystique, and made him look really good and really heroic. As we’ll see, this isn’t always the case… We are first introduced to Blok as a member of the League of Super-Assassins, a group of young people from planet Dryad (the other team members were humanoid, representing the planets fleshy colonists, while Blok alone is a representative of the native silicon-based Dryadians.) When they first appeared, the League had an unexplained hate-face for the Legion, who didn’t understand where all the aggro was coming from… but the popular kids NEVER know why the geeks hate them, do they?

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“We’ve come to destroy you, with your stupid homecoming dances and your stupid Camaros and your stupid making out at stupid Lookout Point!” It’s like Pleasantville with superpowers. Wikipedia seems to be of the opinion that the League was based on the then-current X-Men, much as X-Men nemeses The Imperial Guard were based on the Legion itself, but I’ve never heard this tidbit before. Certain Neutrax’s hoverchair evokes Professor X, and Silver Slasher’s modus operandi does bear a resemblance to Wolverine, but Mist Master turns to gas (possibly referencing Sprite,) Lazon controls light and laser energy (which doesn’t compute, unless it’s meant to reference Storm’s powers), and Titania has superstrength (which may reference Colossus, even though Blok’s stone form seems to make more sense as an analogue to Colossus’ metal one.) It turns out that the entire team was being manipulated by The Dark Man, a mysterious uber-villain, and Legionnaires Light Lass and Timber Wolf try to get information from the incarcerated Leaguers. All the villains start playing Joe Hardcase and won’t help… except for one.

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Even here, you can see Blok’s alien and thoughtful nature, and the philosophical bent that would become the centerpiece of his Legion tenure. The Big Guy certainly isn’t as crazy as his fellow League of Super-Assassins members, and is VERY aware that he and his friends have been manipulated by Dark Man. He accompanies the Legion into the field to try and stop ol’ Darky’s plans, but when Timber Wolf is trapped by one of D.M.’s evil devices, he snarks that Blok can finally live up to his Assassin training. Blok seems genuinely hurt by being so obviously misunderstood…

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You can clearly see Blok’s original ‘collar’ piece and a pretty sizeable honker here, two things about his appearance that would later change. T-Wolf and Blok continue, as the rest of the team confronts The Dark Man, with even the Fatal Five working (in their own self-interests, mind you) to help defeat him. But it takes the efforts of one of Dark Man’s own assassins, finally free of his brainwashing, to turn the tide towards the Legion again…

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Note Saturn Girl’s super-mod 70′s pink pleather bikini… The Dark Man falls from the tree, and when he attempts to fight Fatal Fiver Tharok, both men are seemingly annihilated, like matter and antimatter meeting. Having been key in the defeat of the worst villain ever (until next week) Blok is allowed a rare chance: a tryout for Legion membership. Along with other hopefuls, Blok faces their “drill sergeant,” Wildfire. Much as Timber Wolf before him, Wildfire is skeptical of Blok’s turnaround, and decides to try the “Full Metal Jacket” initiation technique, but blanket parties are passe in 2978, so he does the next best thing…

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… shoots him point blank with about eleventy bazillion volts of anti-energy. Blok is unmoved by the blast, but is hurt by Wildfire’s accusations. He tells the story of his people, the original people of Dryad, and how their centuries long silicon lives were lived slowly and without conflict, until humanoids came to colonize the planet. At first, they were unaware that the stones around them are alive, until a lost little girl trips over one of the rocks, and it not only helps her up, it fixes her toy as well. The Dryadians welcomed the newcomers with open slablike arms.

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Unfortunately (in a manner of speaking) the Starburst Bandits have broken out of prison and are bent on revenge against the Legion who put them away. As the villains race away, Blok continues his tale of Dryad, explaining that after centuries of co-existence, the sun around which Dryad orbitted got brighter, but no one realized the star was about to go Nova. Nobody, that is, except the Legion, who arrived and herded everyone into escape ships. The planet was destroyed by explosion as they escaped, but the young League members misunderstood, blaming The Legion for the death of their homeworld. This rage was what allowed Dark Man to manipulate him, explaining that, even for a silicon-based lifeform, “the scars of childhood are the deepest.” Wildfire overhears, and actually apologizes for riding Blok so hard (which is pretty much unheard of from Wildfire,) when the Starburst bandits arrive. The Legion goes into action, but Blok finds out the hard way that just because you hang out with the popular kids doesn’t mean you don’t occasionally still feel like the dork…

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Sun Boy and Dawnstar literally drop him into combat, and he confronts the Bandits solo. The other Legionnaires find themselves dodging the stellar blasts, but the Starbursters powers don’t affect Blok. He wades right into them, explaining to them, as if speaking to slow children, that they have committed criminal acts, and now they will pay for their crimes. The bandits fire at him, full-power, point-blank, hoping to disintegrate him where he stands…

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Yeah, I’m going with “not so good an idea” on the whole ‘Let’s blast the big one!’ theory. Blok is officially welcomed to the Legion, just in time to face their darkest hour, without even the Matrix of Leadership or Rodimus Prime to save the day. A mysterious presence has begun attacking the United Planets, but no one is sure exactly what it is he or she wants. When a creature calling itself a “servant of darkness” starts wreaking havoc on Weber’s World, the Legion steps up to defend it. The creature (actually a corrupted clone of a Guardian of the Universe[!!]) attempts to kill Ayla Ranzz, Light Lass, but Blok ain’t playing.

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You can talk about your Batman, your Punisher, your Spawn… Any of them ever PUNCHED OUT one of the ultra-powerful Guardians of Oa? No? Oh, wait, you say, they’re tough, they’re heroic, they take a licking and keep on ticking (remember when Frank Castle was a zombie killer? Good times…) and never give up the good fight in the temple by the moonlight wah de doh dah? All well and good, I say to you, but allow me to retort: How many of your favorite heroes have taken a point-blank shot from DARKSEID himself?

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His collar-piece is shattered for good, there, and while Sun Boy and Dawnstar spent several issues recuperating, Blok was on his feet again later that afternoon, helping the Legionnaires to overcome the Great Darkness in their midst, even fighting a clone of Superboy himself! This adventure brought another new Legionnaire into their midst, Mysa Nal, the White Witch of Naltor, and she and Blok (as the new kids) forged a quiet and adorable friendship. Blok seemed a bit smitten with her, as they spent time together going over the Legion’s years of accumulated history in the holo-library. The big guy even took her out of a couple of dates, and nothing is cuter than seeing him trying to build up the courage to ask her out…

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Mysa, for her part, obviously had a soft spot for Blok, and their friendship (though never an official Legion romance) was one of mutual respect. Blok also became close to tough-guy Timber Wolf (who continually called him “Pebble-Brain” even though Blok was probably smarter than T-Wolf [whose personality varied wildly, probably because of the Zuunium that gave him his abilities]) and provided the Legion with their first really alien viewpoint. He occasionally found that the shorter-tempered Legionnaires (especially Wildfire and Shadow Lass) became annoyed with his slow and steady nature, but Blok became a fixture of the Legion to the point of appearing on the cover of the first-ever “Legion of Superheroes #1,” the iconic image that defined the team for years to come.

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The group battled the Legion of Super-Villains, and found nearly a third of their ranks lost, presumed dead in the wake of the battle (the same one that claimed the life of Karate Kid.) Soon after, a short-handed Legion was forced to bring in five new members all at once, and Blok finally changed out of his customary skin-tone trunks into an official honest-to-Klordny superhero costume (my favorite of his various looks.)

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While wearing this blue and gold suit, Blok (along with the Legion) became embroiled in the Crisis on Infinite Earths, in which conflict he is present among the heroes when the Monitor’s satellite is destroyed, and is seen periodically in cameos (probably due to his size and unique body style marking him as one of the most distinctive Legionnaires.) After the Crisis passes, the Legion finds themselves stuck in some dark days, indeed, as a conspiracy nearly destroys the team from within, Universo manages to take over the world and is only BARELY stopped AFTER THE FACT, and several team members go through grave changes, including Mon-El. Blok, too, is caught up in the zeitgeist, as years among the Legion have only deepened his sense of isolation…

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I tried desperately to find the point where Blok’s nose was blown off, but it apparently happened off-panel (coincidentally, when the artist changed… Hmmm.) But, you may also notice change in his form, starting with the strange “pipes” on his shoulders. It seems that Blok’s form is changing again, but he has no way to tell if this is normal, or indeed, how far the metamorphosis will go. Staring into his own navel, Blok is surprised when a blue-skinned dwarf offers to tell him the lost secrets of his people. Uncharacteristically, Blok makes a rash decision, and leaps into the teleportation portal with the dwarf, only to find himself locked in a cell. Rocks being patient by nature, he takes the time to meditate, working with the dwarf, only to find after weeks of the runaround, that the little freak knows NOTHING, and in fact has kidnapped Blok, as well as Mon-El and Shadow Lass. This makes Blok angry, and if there’s one thing I don’t ever want to face, it’s a torked-off Dryad with lava shooting out of his shoulders.

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Eduardo Barreto is a good artist, but he never did quite get the hang of Blok. Even Mon-El, the man Superb– I mean, TOM WELLING called ‘Big Brother’ is impressed with the force unleashed by the last of the Dryads, and Blok manages to punch his way out of a cell made to hold a Kryptonian (with a little assist from Mon’s dwindling heat vision.) Blok has had time to think, and when he confronts his captors, we see the return of the philosophical Blok of old.

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You’re a man of granite, buddy, and you should always remember: Illigitemi non carborundum. Immediately afterward, the Legion and the entire United Planets are thrust into the middle of a huge Magic War, where the very laws of the universe are irrevocably altered. Once again, The Legion overcomes the greatest odds, and the very last shot of the last issue (in a way, the last issue of the original Legion in it’s original incarnation) shows Blok, standing tall among his fellows, a hero to the end.

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Indeed, it’s NOT the end, as the Legion returned a few months later with the most controversial storyline they had ever attempted: the Five-Year Gap. It’s like One Year Later, only 80% bigger! The Legion (and, indeed, the entire United Planets) had suffered greatly in the missing half-decade, but there came a day when several Legionnaires once again worked together. The Dominators, secretly now in control of the entire Earth and having manipulated events to decimate the Legion in the first place, hit the panic button a bit early, calling out the equivalent of a nuclear weapon to hunt a rabbit by releasing Roxxas the Butcher, the man who killed every single soul on Element Lad’s home planet of Trom. Having quit the Legion during the gap (the debacle that was “Black Dawn” forcing Wildfire to give up his life to reignite Earth’s sun made Blok realize that his path was no longer with the Legion) and settled on the Puppet Planetoid, a deserted world supposedly created by giants years ago to house their toys. Blok went into a state of near-suspended-animation, contemplating the universe and mutating even further, until Roxxas arrived and awoke the sleeping giant… WITH A BOMB. Jackass.

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Both arms and legs blown off, Blok finds himself in an out of body experience, communing with the spirits of his people. Here’s I need to take a quick digression.: In the mid-to-late 80′s, Legion was one of the better selling-books on the stands, and though it came somewhat late in the proceedings, there was a long-term Legion “spinoff” set in the modern DCU, called L.E.G.I.O.N. ’89 (then ’90, ’91, ’92, et al.) This grouping, brought together by ancestors of Brainiac 5 and Shadow Lass, also included another immature Dryad, this one a female, called Hala Strata. Strata’s role in L.E.G.I.O.N. was similar to Blok’s, though she was considerably higher profile, and was a key member of that team in most of it’s incarnations… Strata’s body, unlike the male Blok, started as the customary granite-like substance, but that later molted leaving a crystalline core not unlike a diamond.

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Now I slap the pause button, and we return to the story, with our mortally wounded hero finding his spirit communing with the soul of his long-dead planet…

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Some might say that it’s a hallucination, evidenced by Blok’s changing appearance and the image of a hero lost hundreds of years before, but I have a different theory: They’re not human, these Dryads, and the injuries to his body, grievous though they are, have allowed the Big B to transcend his mortality, to finally navigate past the rocks (pun horrible, but not entirely intended) to find the truth of his lost people. Roxxas continues throwing his bombs, disassembling Blok piece by piece (though you may be inclined to hate him for this, Roxxas is beyond crazy, and the true villains here are the Dominators, who set him on this path JUST TO PROVE HE WAS CAPABLE OF KILLING THE LEGIONNAIRES,) and finally Blok gets to see the whole story of his past, his people, and the real truth about the silicon beings of Dryad.

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I remember tearing up the first time I read that, and I’ll be darned if I’m not doing it again now. Blok is gone, somewhere we can’t really fathom, but his murder is the catalyst that brings the Legion back together again. Ironic (in an Alanis kinda way) that the weapon the Dominators wanted to use to keep the Legion from returning is actually the thing that made it happen. Jan Arrah, having transcended the deaths of his own people, is able to forgive Roxxas for their deaths (and Blok’s) and Roxxas thereby becomes the tool that brings the Dominators down. The Legion is reborn in memory of the man of stone, and even Brainiac 5, the logical Coluan is so moved as to write a freakin’ POEM.

“Blok”

Man made of granite.
Step lightly on the roses.
Where, death, is thy sting?

If that doesn’t at least move you a little, I submit that you are an android putz from Noheartsville. The Legion was rebooted in the wake of the Zero Hour crisis, but Blok never returned. Some time later, after most of his comrades returned in one form or another, a female Dryadian called Brika appeared She is transformed into an elemental force, (called Rrox, echoing Roxxas, Blok’s murderer) along with others representing fire, air, and water. Rrox’ first act is to destroy the entire planet Dryad…

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Another reboot has since taken the Legion (being in the future, their “history” resets about every twenty-seven minutes), and Blok HAS appeared, sort of, in this rendition…

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This issue actually tells stories of Legionnaires who don’t exist (whatever that means) in the current chronology, including Big B, Dawnstar, and Tyroc (the first black Legionnaire and huge fan of Elvis and Peter Pan who really thought that their fashion senses would work well together.) I don’t think I count this as an appearance, so much as an echo, but it still made me happy to see Blok on the cover again.

The message of the Legion of Superheroes is simple: Everybody has something to contribute. Blok’s powers were never really clear (his “mass-absorbing powers” later shifted to just generally being big and strong), but his character was. He was a gentle soul, the eternal outsider, the alien perspective on the madness that was the Legion, he was Timber Wolf’s pal, he was an unstoppable juggernaut, he was the Legionnaire whose death brought the Legion itself back from the edge of extinction. He was, simply, a Legionnaire, and a hero.